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Michigan History: The Hopewell Indians

Hopewell Mound by Gray Redfox
NOTE: Mound is in West Virginia!

Before European settlers, even before the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibway, prehistoric people called the Hopewell built hundreds of burial mounds in the river valleys and forests of what we now call Michigan. Some Hopewell lived in the western and southern part of the Lower Peninsula. However, the most sophisticated Hopewell settlements and the largest burial mounds were in Ohio and Illinois. When they buried honored people in the mounds, the Hopewell included items that tell us about their lives.The Hopewell were part of a huge trading network that stretched across the central United States. Elaborate decorations and jewelry made from Michigan copper, North Carolina mica, and shells and pearls from the Gulf of Mexico were discovered in Hopewell mounds. Carved obsidian (a volcanic rock) from the Rocky Mountains and shark teeth from Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay also have been found. The most ornate artifacts were in Ohio mounds. Michigan artifacts, such as pots and bowls, are simpler. Archaeologists believe the Hopewell traded furs and food, too, but they decayed long ago.

The Moundbuilders by Mary Harrsch
Artifacts from Cahokia Interpretive Center
in St. Louis, Missouri (photo set)

In their eating habits, the Hopewell fit between hunter-gatherers and farmers. The Hopewell may have grown some plants, but they were not a full-time farming people. They ate nuts, squash, and the seeds from several plants. Hopewell people also ate wild animals, birds, and fish.

The Hopewell’s houses were not permanent, so little evidence remains to tell about them. Scientists believe the houses had wooden pole frames covered with animal skins, grass or herb woven mats, or bark.

The Hopewell built their mounds in Michigan from 10 B.C. until about A.D. 400. Historians believe the Hopewell are the distant ancestors of the native people who still live in Michigan. Still, no one knows why they stopped building mounds or where they went after A.D. 400.

For more great stories on Michigan’s past, look to Michigan History magazine. For more information or a free trial issue, call (800) 366-3703 or visit http://www.michiganhistorymagazine.com/.

More Hopewell Indian Resources